Reader Response: Super Managers

Super Theatre Manager, Joe Patti, took the time to write in with some observations and questions about the idea of using executive managers for smaller budget orchestras (below $1 million annual budget) only when they are needed.

[Regarding] timing; since there is a general portion of the calendar which constitutes the period when audiences are more likely to attend, how easy will it be to find a manager during the time you need him/her when someone else is offering a better fee?

Good question Joe.  I doubt the level of concern an organization may have over losing a manager to another outfit over better pay, benefits, conditions, etc. will be any different than organizations currently endure.  Actually, I think that the risk of losing a mobile manager is less than the typical full time executive manager based on some fundamental differences between the two.

The typical full time manager will more than likely fall into the category of using this type of position as a “starting point” for their vocation with aspirations of moving up the career ladder as quickly as possible.  That’s one problem these smaller budget orchestras already have to deal with; high turn over.

On the other hand, mobile managers will be more likely to orient themselves to make their collection of part time employment and/or consulting work their primary occupation.  The benefits include remaining in one geographic location for longer periods of time (family/friends/roots), greater work flexibility, elimination of commuting, etc. 

These issues tend to draw particular personalities who tend to be put off by a traditional corporate ladder climbing approach.  As people are having an easier time being self employed and finding more and more reasons to stay home for work (for example, it’s much easier to find health insurance, etc. as compared to ten years ago) this segment of business society is currently growing slowly but steadily among a diverse demographic spectrum.

Joe went on to raise another issue,

As a mobile manager, how do you support yourself in those off-periods when no one needs your help and not go crazy during the months they do trying to make enough money to support yourself the rest of the year?

Another superb question from Joe.  Oddly enough, the individuals best suited to answer the question of how would managers support themselves during the off periods would be one of the musicians in the respective small budget orchestras (not to mention musicians in most of the ROPA orchestras too).

After all, these same orchestras ask their musicians to perform at professional standards for limited engagements and therefore don’t offer full time employment.  By comparison, when it comes to the amount of necessary work hours to manage a smaller budget orchestra, the reality is that it doesn’t take 40 hours per week over 52 weeks per year. 

Furthermore, a past article here at Adaptistration examined the belief that most managers find it an acceptable practice to expect their professional musicians to find additional work outside of their orchestra compensation in order to earn a living wage.  Unfortunately, this has become a dangerously cozy way of thinking for some in this business. 

Yes, it’s impossible for an orchestra with a $400,000 annual budget to pay each of its 85 musicians a living wage.  However, why must it feel the need to pay over 10% of its budget on a single non artistic employee for year round employment related to a job which doesn’t require it?

It’s representative of top down thinking at its worst; applying an operational model designed and implemented by big budget orchestras for organizations a fraction of their size is just inefficient and wasteful. 

The two groups of people who can benefit the most from considering this point of view are the executive board members of these smaller budget orchestras and the academics who run arts administration degree programs. They are the ones who have access to the minds of tomorrow’s managers.  They are the ones who can begin to encourage new thinking in new directions and change this damaging frame of reference.

If you’re curious about how to get the ball rolling, send me a note.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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